Trying to make sense of the Highlands Course

By Rex HoggardAugust 14, 2011, 4:43 pm

JOHNS CREEK, Ga. – This is not a golf course problem, or a Rees Jones problem, or even a Phil Mickelson problem. This is a set-up problem.

As a rule, the PGA of America and Kerry Haigh, the organization’s point man on golf course set up, have gotten it right. There have been no Shinnecocks or Carnousties, set-up snafus to hang on the “never again” bulletin board. But this week’s blueprint at Atlanta Athletic Club doesn’t feel right.

On Wednesday, first-alternate Paul Goydos figured on the “Grey Goose 19th Hole” that he’s never played a course with a driveable par 3 (No. 15) and a three-shot par 4 (No. 18). After this week, many in the PGA Championship field are hoping they don’t see one again.

This goes beyond typical Tour pro nit-picking and cliché claims that “they all have to play the same course.” This is a question of intent, as in did Jones & Co. intend the closing hole to be played 4-iron/4-iron, the way Mickelson did earlier this week? Or the par-3 15th hole played to effectively the same yardage from two different teeing areas?

Mickelson said modern architecture is to blame, but in the case of the PGA it seems a lack of vision is the culprit.

“(No. 18) would be an awesome par 5,” Ryan Palmer said. “What is wrong with par 71? Why are entertaining par 5s so bad? If I’m a fan have guys hit a driver and have a rescue wood in. That’s exciting.”

The Highlands Course’s 18th is a par-5 51 weeks a year, with a back tee that stretches the hole to 573 yards, but has played as a par 4 for the PGA, a big, thoughtless par 4.

Sure, David Toms’ final-hole heroics in 2001 at AAC were entertaining, but there is a better than even-money chance Sunday’s winner will play the hole the exact same way. It’s the way a large portion of the field has been forced to play the hole this week. If everyone does it, is it still special?

Most players hit fairway wood or hybrid off the tee because the landing area for most drivers is little more than 18 yards wide - miss right and there are bunkers and a likely lay-up - miss left and the water awaits.

“There’s nowhere to hit it off the tee and the bunkers are virtually unplayable,” said Steve Stricker, who actually made par the Toms way on Saturday at the 18th hole. “It’s a better par 5 than a par 4.”

The 2008 U.S. Open was arguably the best major of the decade in no small part to the fact that U.S. Golf Association set-up man Mike Davis fought to keep Torrey Pines’ closing hole a risk-reward par 5. Instead of a false sense of par the USGA went for pyrotechnics, and it worked.

It would have worked at Atlanta Athletic Club, but instead we have a scoring average more than a half stroke over par (4.57), more double bogeys (37) than birdies (25) and virtually no chance for closing dramatics, just disaster.

And the one hole where there was excitement in 2001 (No. 15, where Toms made an ace in Round 3) received a nip/tuck that added an odd 38 yards and virtually nothing new or interesting to the hole.

“It played the exact same yardage (for Rounds 1 and 2),” said Palmer of the 15th hole.

Huh? According to the PGA the 15th hole played from the back tee on Thursday (253 yards) and the next tee up on Friday (236 yards).

“It was 240 (yards) both days, hit the exact same club, a hybrid,” Palmer said. “Because on Thursday the back tee is more elevated and the pin was in the front. On Friday the lower tee is not as elevated and the pin was back.”

Which makes the 15th hole’s new tee little more than wasted real-estate, and why this week’s set-up may have been a wasted opportunity.

New heat-resistant grasses at AAC promised almost unlimited set-up possibilities. The Highlands Course could have been set up as hard and fast as the PGA wanted, but instead of creative we got carnage. No, this was definitely not a golf course problem, this was a set-up problem.

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DJ triples last hole, opens with 76 at Open

By Golf Channel DigitalJuly 19, 2018, 6:18 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Dustin Johnson’s chances of winning The Open are likely already over.

The world No. 1 hit his tee shot out of bounds on 18 on his way to a triple bogey, capping a miserable day that left him with a 5-over 76, 10 shots off the lead and in danger of missing the cut.

Johnson didn’t talk to reporters afterward, but there wasn’t much to discuss.

He didn’t make a birdie until the par-5 14th, bogeyed 16 and then made 7 on Carnoustie's home hole when his tee shot caromed out of bounds left.

Johnson has missed the cut only once in nine previous appearances at The Open – in his first try in 2009.

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'The Golf Club 2019' adds Elvy to commentary team

By Nick MentaJuly 19, 2018, 4:45 pm

“The Golf Club 2019” is adding a new name to its commentary team.

Broadcaster Luke Elvy will join returning announcer and HB Studios developer John McCarthy for the title's third installment.

Golf fans will recognize Elvy from his recent work with CBS in addition to his time with Sky Sports, FOX Sports, TNT, PGA Tour Live and PGA Tour Radio.

A 25-year media veteran from Australia, he now works in the United States and lives with his family in Canada.

"Ian Baker-Finch was my right-hand man on Australian televison," Elvy told in an interview at the Quicken Loans National. "And Finchy said to me, 'What are you doing here? You should be with me in the States.’ He introduced me to a few people over here and that's how the transition has happened over the last five or six years."

Elvy didn't have any prior relationship with HB Studios, who reached out to him via his management at CAA. As for why he got the job, he pseudo-jokes: "They heard the accent, and said, 'We like that. That works for us. Let's go.' That's literally how it happened."

He participated in two separate recording sessions over three days, first at his home back in February and then at the HB Studios shortly after The Players Championship. He teased his involvement when the game was announced in May.

Although he doesn't describe himself as a "gamer," Elvy lauded the game's immediate playability, even for a novice.

“It’s exactly how you’d want golf to be,” he said.

"The Golf Club 2019" will be the first in the HB series to feature PGA Tour branding. The Tour had previously licensed its video game rights to EA Sports.

In addition to a career mode that will take players from the Tour all the way through the FedExCup Playoffs, "The Golf Club 2019" will also feature at launch replicas of six TPC courses played annually on Tour – TPC Summerlin (Shriners Hospitals for Children Open), TPC Scottsdale's Stadium Course (Waste Management Phoenix Open), TPC Sawgrass’ Stadium Course (The Players Championship), TPC Southwind (FedEx St. Jude Classic/WGC-FedEx St. Jude Championship), TPC Deere Run (John Deere Classic), and TPC Boston (Dell Technologies Championship).

“I played nine holes at Scottsdale,” Elvy added. “It’s a very close comparison. Visually, it’s very realistic."

The Golf Club 2019 is due out this August on PlayStation 4, XBOX One, and PC.

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Expired visa, helicopter, odd clubs all part of Vegas' journey

By Ryan LavnerJuly 19, 2018, 3:48 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Jhonattan Vegas thought someone was playing a practical joke on him.

Or maybe he was stuck in the middle of a horror movie.

Scheduled to leave for The Open a week ago, he didn’t arrive at Carnoustie until a little more than an hour before his first-round tee time Thursday.

“Even if somebody tried to do that on purpose,” he said, “you couldn’t really do it.”

The problem was an expired visa.

Vegas said that he must have gotten confused by the transposed date on the visa – “Guessing I’ve been living in America too long” – and assumed that he was cleared to travel.

No problem, he was told. He’d have a new visa in 24 hours.

Full-field scores from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship

Except the consulate in New York didn’t respond to his application the next day, keeping him in limbo through the weekend. Then, on Monday, he was told that he’d applied for the wrong visa. UPS got shut down in New York and his visa never left, so Vegas waited in vain for seven hours in front of the consulate in Houston. He finally secured his visa on Wednesday morning, boarded a flight from Houston to Toronto, and then flew to Glasgow, the final leg of a 14-hour journey.

His agent arranged a helicopter ride from Glasgow to Carnoustie to ensure that he could make his 10:31 a.m. (local) tee time.

One more issue? His clubs never made it. They were left back in Toronto.

His caddie, Ruben Yorio, scrambled to put together a new bag, with a mismatched set of woods, irons, wedges and putter.

“Luckily the (equipment) vans are still here,” Vegas said. “Otherwise I probably would have played with members’ clubs today.”

He hit about 20 balls on the range – “Luckily they were going forward” – but Carnoustie is one of the most challenging links in the world, and Vegas was working off of two hours’ sleep and without his own custom-built clubs. He shot 76 but, hey, at least he tried.

“It was fun,” he said, “even though the journey was frustrating.”

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'Brain fart' leads to Spieth's late collapse

By Rex HoggardJuly 19, 2018, 2:44 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – The closing stretch at Carnoustie has famously ruined many a solid round, so Jordan Spieth’s misadventures on Thursday should not have been a complete surprise, but the truth is the defending champion’s miscues were very much self-inflicted.

Spieth was cruising along at 3 under par, just two shots off the early lead, when he made a combination of errors at the par-4 15th hole. He hit the wrong club off the tee (4-iron) and the wrong club for his approach (6-iron) on his way to a double bogey-6.

“The problem was on the second shot, I should have hit enough club to reach the front of the green, and even if it goes 20 yards over the green, it's an easy up-and-down,” Spieth said. “I just had a brain fart, and I missed it into the location where the only pot bunker where I could actually get in trouble, and it plugged deep into it. It was a really, really poor decision on the second shot, and that cost me.”

Full-field scores from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship

Spieth continued to compound his problems with a sloppy bogey at the 16th hole, and a drive that sailed left at 18 found the Barry Burn en route to a closing bogey and a 1-over 72.

The miscues were more mental, a lack of execution, than they were an example of how difficult the closing stretch at Carnoustie can be, and that’s not good enough for Spieth.

“That's what I would consider as a significant advantage for me is recognizing where the misses are,” said Spieth, who was tied for 68th when he completed his round. “It felt like a missed opportunity.”